Pandora facing uphill battle to win over musicians

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Pandora pays musicians and would “like to see artists get paid more,” Herring said. “We write a big royalty check every year to performers; last year we wrote one for $250 million in performance royalties.”

IRFA, sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), would have made performance royalty fees paid by Internet radio services more in line with those paid by cable and satellite broadcasters.

“We [Internet radio] are the only ones who pay on a per-track basis versus a percentage of revenue for satellite or zero in broadcast,” Herring told CNET. Terrestrial radio broadcasters pay no performance royalty fees, though Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) introduced a bill last month to change that.

“I'm not asking for the zero rate of broadcast,” Herring said. “I'm asking for everyone to pay a similarly calculated rate.”

Ted Kalo, executive director of musicians’ group musicFIRST, challenged Herring’s comments in a statement. “The more Pandora parrots the line 'it's not about lowering rates,’ the more obvious it becomes that is all this is about,” he said.

“Artists weren't fooled by double-talk about 'fairness' when it became clear that Pandora was seeking nothing more than a race to the bottom when it comes to paying music creators for performances.”

Because Pandora pushed for Chaffetz’s bill, Herring’s comments may be too late, Casey Rae, interim executive director of the Future of Music Coalition said. 

“Herring's comments about not lowering artist payouts but instead harmonizing standards between platforms might have been better said a year ago. ... Now it's going to be much harder for Pandora to recapture goodwill in the artist community.”

Rae suggested that Pandora differentiate itself from other Internet radio services by engaging with artists.

“In order to make themselves indispensable, they'll need to have the artists and songwriters on their side,” he said.